By Niall O’Dowd at Irish Central
It is amazing to note that Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Féin, to the best of my research, has done very few interviews on 1916. Arguably, the Sinn Féin leader’s opinion on that revolutionary event is the most important of any Irish politician, but in a country where the media still practices self-censorship when it comes to Adams, perhaps we should not be shocked.
To put the record straight we sat down with Adams during his recent visit to New York. As usual his insights and opinions were direct and compelling.
N O’D: Can you tell me what you think is the major lesson of 1916?
GA: I think the most important thing to come out of 1916 is the Proclamation. I mean, the act of revolution and the huge bravery of 3,000 people going out against the biggest empire in the world is of colossal importance, but the Proclamation is extraordinary.
You know, I actually think the Proclamation is the one of the finest documents ever written and they contained it all in one page, which is remarkable. Even its opening line, recognizing women as equals, was before its time.
It seems to be quite heavily based on the American Declaration of Independence.
Well, it’s based on rights. I think rights and even the lack of rights are the core of every conflict we’ve ever seen, and obviously Pearse and Connolly had a big influence on the writing of it.
It does draw its roots from the American Revolution and the French Revolution, but, you know, if you look at it now and what is the importance of the centenary we have today, it is to discuss if these rights they enumerate are present in our society today.
There is also a huge dimension in relation to a conversation about Irish unity and the North and the nation, just the concept of nationhood contained in the Proclamation, yet the establishment in the Irish Republic is very partitionist. They face away from the reality.
You know that when you’re in the Dáil and they say to you about your coming down from “up there,” as if you don’t belong.
I actually thought it was very funny, some backbenchers challenging (party deputy leader) Mary Lou McDonald from South Dublin and saying, “Don’t you dare come down here and tell us what to do.”
Now I know that attitude does offend Northerners. I remember Dana, a candidate from Derry during the presidential election, saying Northerners always looks South, Southerners rarely look North and there was a truth in that.
I don’t think it’s the people’s fault if you have a state which is in existence for whatever length of time, almost 90 years. You know, Liam Mellows when he was arguing against the Treaty said, “Men will get into power when they get into power and they won’t give up that power.”
For me, what’s missing out of the current debate – and hopefully we will get to this at an appropriate time – is that here was a revolution there in 1916, but there was also a counter-revolution and the counter-revolution won and the revisionism of today is all about that.
When you say a counter-revolution what are the key elements of that?
Well, before I get to that, a very important point is when the British came in and actually executed the 1916 leaders. It wasn’t just a knee jerk sort of imperial reaction. It was quite ruthless and it removed – and I think it was quite deliberate – the main thinkers and writers of the period.
It removed the republican cohort, the revolutionary leadership that had come through against all the odds to organize the rising and to make the Proclamation.
You’ll remember that there was a whole group of quite good people through a range of different cultural, sporting, social and feminist movements, as well as the volunteers and the other organizations of struggle who survived, but this particular group of men and women who actually pushed the issue and the 16 that were killed were the real leaders.
Read the full interview at Irish Central